Hats off to Birmingham
By Lesley Rudd
As a Geordie living on the south east of England, I had, until I joined the Sustainable Energy Association (based in Solihull) four years ago, regarded the Midlands as somewhere I passed through on the way to visit family up north.
I have over the years attended many party conferences; Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative in many different venues. As lover of the coast and a vegetarian I have enjoyed Brighton the most as I would go jogging by the sea every morning and eat in its excellent vegetarian restaurants in the evening.
I confess that I did not have high expectations for this year’s Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. Conservativism has generally been seen as being at the opposite side of the debate to the sustainable industry and Birmingham’s canals were, I thought, unlikely to be a good substitute for the British coastline.
However Birmingham was an excellent venue for a party conference. It had some great venues, for example I attended a Conservative Environment Network event in the SEA Life centre. The local people, the police and staff in venues were friendly and helpful. It was compact, had good restaurants, lovely architecture and the canals were impressive.
There was also some positive words for the sustainability industry. Due to the merger of the Department for Energy and Climate Change into a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) energy and climate policy were part of speeches on business at this year’s conference. This merger provides an opportunity to better link and demonstrate the benefits of the policies we are advocating to business and wider society.
Greg Clark, Secretary of State for BEIS demonstrated this link between energy and business in his statement, “Our global leadership in combating climate change now presents us with a massive opportunity to enjoy industrial success as we put clean energy at the heart of our industrial future.”
The SEA is campaigning for “making buildings energy efficient” to be a national infrastructure priority and Greg Clark talked about the country needing an infrastructure upgrade. “We have low carbon energy systems that lead the world, but also a failure of successive governments to replace our ageing power stations. I believe that it is time for our country to have an upgrade. An upgrade in our infrastructure. An upgrade in the resilience – and the cleanness – of our energy supplies.”
Conservatives support a reduction in the public deficit, free markets and light touch regulatory intervention. This is often contrasted with the sustainable industry who are perceived as wanting continuous subsidies. In reality the industry has found the stop start subsidies have brought a boom and bust roller coaster – which they would like to get off!
What is needed is long term policy with clear and consistent signals to industry of future policy. Industry can adapt provided they have clear direction and a stable policy framework. Schemes such as the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Energy Companies Obligation still have an important role to play in developing the market and the supply chain but we need to transition to market based polices and also regulation. Changes to Building Regulations to introduce higher efficiency standards and smart controls for heating systems are an example of positive regulation. The Conservatives are keen on increasing home ownership and encourage schemes such as “help to buy”. Houses built now will last for decades and impact our environment throughout that time. We need therefore to ensure that our buildings are energy efficient, are well insulated and have efficient heating systems. If Government is using tax payer’s money to encourage home ownership then let’s ensure it is supporting energy efficient homes.
I believe that people of all political persuasions can understand the benefit of reducing waste and increasing the energy efficiency of our buildings is about reducing waste. Heating them efficiently also makes sense. These heating systems will not be the same for every property, location or circumstance. We need a balance of technologies, a balanced energy mix, a balance of supply and demand measures (which are often neglected) and ultimately a balance of the earth!
I look forward to the next Conference in Birmingham.
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